Saturday Book Interview: Thomas McKenzie (by David G. Moore)

Saturday Book Interview: Thomas McKenzie (by David G. Moore) March 21, 2015

Thomas McKenzie is the founding pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, Tennessee.  His book, The Anglican Way: a Guidebook  framed the following interview.  More information about McKenzie can be found at www.thomasmckenzie.com.

The interview was conducted by David George Moore.  Dave blogs at www.twocities.org.

Moore: What were the motivating factors which led you to write this book?

McKenzie: I wrote this book because it didn’t exist, and I needed it to. Most of the people I encounter in my church work know very little about following Jesus as an Anglican. I’ve spent thousands of hours addressing their questions about Anglicanism. It seemed that there had to be a single, easy source that I could refer people to. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. So, I wrote one for them.

I also wrote this book to help influence our movement. I want to make sure that this fast-growing and dynamic group of churches stays centered—that we keep “the main thing the main thing.” That’s why my book keeps bringing people back to the Gospel. Being more Anglican shouldn’t be our goal. Our goal should be to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Moore: Henry VIII is a well-known, but not well-liked figure.  How do you address folks who cringe over such a shady character “starting a new denomination?”

McKenzie: Henry VIII is completely cringe-worthy; and, I have a two-fold answer to that question. First, I disagree with the idea that Henry VIII started our denomination. For about 1500 years, the Anglican Church was simply the Church in England (the word “Anglican”is an adjective meaning “of  England”). That Church was founded by untold thousands of saints over many centuries.

Henry VIII wasn’t the first ruler to assert that the Pope was not the head of the English church. Both Charlemagne and the Magna Carta claimed that. Henry wasn’t able to complete the break, as his daughter and successor Mary quite possibly would have brought England back under papal authority, had she lived long enough. I would say that the true founders of the modern Anglican Church were Thomas Cranmer (theologically) and Queen Elizabeth I (institutionally). None of that is to say that Henry VIII wasn’t important, he was. But he didn’t start the English Church.

My second answer is that all denominations are founded by sinners. Henry VIII was not a good person, and many of his actions were truly despicable. However, God used him as part of our story. God sometimes uses evil people to accomplish his purposes. The Lord used Satan to ensure the crucifixion of Jesus (when the devil entered into Judas Iscariot), and that sacrifice saved the world. It shouldn’t be any great surprise that God would use a sinful man like Henry to assist his Church.

Moore: The word episcopal comes into the American lexicon after the American Revolution.  You are an American, but you call yourself an Anglican. How come?

McKenzie: That is a long and unhappy story, which I’ll keep short. The Anglican Communion is the largest Protestant communion of churches in the world. It is comprised of independent provinces with no central authority. There is a “first among equals,”the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he has no control outside of his own province.

The Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC) is a province of the Anglican Communion. Over the past several decades, TEC made a series of pastoral and theological decisions which have alienated them from many other provinces of the Anglican Communion. In 2009, archbishops who represent the vast majority of Anglicans on earth decided that a new province needed to be formed in North America.  That is why the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) came into existence.

The ACNA is recognized by some Anglican provinces, but is not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Regardless of its current status, the ACNA is far more faithful to historic Anglican Christianity than is the Episcopal Church. While there are many faithful Episcopalians, in 2004 I came to the conclusion that I could not be both an Anglican Christian and an Episcopalian. So I joined a mission from Rwanda, which ultimately became part of the ACNA. I am happy to be a follower of Jesus within historic Anglicanism.

Moore: In your book you make clear that baptism does not save.  Each person must confess Christ.  What do Anglicans believe about those who got baptized but never confessed Christ?  Conversely, what do Anglicans believe about those who never got baptized, but clearly confess Christ?

McKenzie: Since there are about 80 million people on earth who use the word “Anglican” for themselves, in one sense it’s impossible to definitively say what Anglicans believe about anything. But, if you mean what does the Church traditionally say on the subject, I can try to answer that. The baptism of an infant is an action of profound faith. We make promises for our children, but we cannot force our kids to accept the Lordship of Christ when they are older. If someone were to be baptized in the Church, but then later were to deny Christ, I would assume that this will not go well for them on the Day of Judgment. I would say the same for infants as well as adults who are baptized.

Baptism is the normal way in which people enter the Kingdom of Heaven. However, there will certainly be people in the Resurrection of the Blessed who were not baptized in their lifetimes. St. Luke’s thief on the cross comes to mind.

I think there may be an assumption behind your question. The assumption is that there is a pinpoint moment at which time someone is saved. Some would say, “When I said the sinners prayer”and others would say, “when I was baptized.”Unfortunately, we all know of instances in which someone had one of those pinpoint moments but then later denied Christ. But, still we debate which moment is the “real one.”

I would suggest that Anglicans typically hold to a view of salvation which is both more mysterious and more biblical. We sometime say, “I was saved, I am being saved, and I hope to be saved.” Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit doesn’t always do things according to our expectations and timelines. God is not a machine, but a Unity of Persons. And, ultimately, my salvation relies less on either a faith statement or my baptism and more on the faithfulness of Jesus to me.

Moore Clarification: I do believe salvation is both a point in time and a process.  We are transferred out of Satan’s kingdom into God’s in a moment (Col. 1:13,14), but our growth in understanding that salvation is the rest of this life and the next.  I also believe that many are not aware of when their initial salvation or justification occurred.  Timothy would be a good example of this.  Lack of awareness in knowing the exact when does not mean there isn’t an exact when.

Moore: I noticed on the web site for your church that you guys have elders.  Do they play the same role that elders do in say a Presbyterian church?

McKenzie: No, not really. Our congregation is a bit of an aberration in this way. When we founded our church, we had some freedom in how we organized ourselves. After careful study, we decided to govern our local church by a group of 10 people, 9 lay leaders and the pastor. We decided to use the biblical words, rather than the traditional Anglican terminology. We still make important decisions as a group. However, the word “elder”should normally apply to priests in the Anglican Church, not to lay people.

Moore: I know several people who are part of Anglican churches who have disagreements with the Thirty-Nine Articles.  For example, some don’t believe in the parameters set forth in the statement about baptism (article XXVII) whereas others clearly don’t hold to the statements on predestination and election (article XVII).  How binding are the Thirty-Nine Articles for being Anglican?

McKenzie: One of the great things about the Anglican Church is the freedom we have. We resonate with Rupertus Meldenius’ axiom “In essentials, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, love.”

Any person is welcome to join us in worship. If someone wants to officially join our church, we typically ask that they affirm the Nicene Creed (which most congregations say every Sunday as part of worship). In many Anglican provinces and dioceses, candidates for ordination are required to affirm the 39 Articles of Religion.

It is no surprise to me at all that you know folks who attend an Anglican congregation who do not subscribe to all of those teachings. They are free to disagree and still be part of our church. If they wanted to be ordained, then I’m sure there would be a conversation with their pastor or bishop.

Ultimately, what someone thinks of the Articles won’t change the practice of the Church. We baptize children and adults, and we believe in salvation by grace alone. Someone’s agreement or disagreement won’t cause us to severe fellowship with them.

Moore: What would you say are the one or two biggest misunderstandings about the Anglican faith?

McKenzie: Most people in the U.S. neither know nor care about Anglicanism. So most people don’t have any misunderstanding, they simply have no understanding. Among those who do have some contact with the Anglican Church, there are a few things.

Most people who have visited one Anglican congregation think that all of our congregations are like that one. This is far from the truth. The Anglican Church boasts a great variety of congregations, from very Catholic ones to very Charismatic, from high church to low church, from tiny to enormous, from single-generation to multi-generation. So, if you happened to visit a small, anglo-catholic church filled with elderly people meeting in a beautiful sanctuary, you don’t have a full picture of our Church. Same if you once worshiped with 300 young Anglicans in a warehouse hung with video screens and boasting an awesome rock band.

Some people have heard about us in relationship to our views on homosexuality. The ACNA does not perform same-sex unions, neither do we ordain homosexual people who will not refrain from homosexual practice. For almost every Anglican person I know, this practice comes from theological convictions based on the Bible, not from personal animosity or fear. In other words, most of us are not homophobic. Rather, we do everything in our power to love and support all people while living within an orthodox moral framework. Some believe that homophobia is the only reason to stay consistent with the Bible and the orthodox practice of the Church. This is untrue, though I doubt I will convince anyone by saying that.

On the other side of the cultural divide, there are Christians who don’t think we are fully acceptable.  We are too catholic for some, too liturgical, too traditional or too stogy. Some are concerned that we aren’t Bible-based or Gospel-proclaiming. I would say that there are some Anglican churches which would do well to listen to those criticisms. However, most congregations I’ve visited are committed to godly worship, immersed in Scripture, dedicated to the poor, adapt (where appropriate) to culture, and actively proclaim the Good News of Jesus.

Thanks for this opportunity to talk about The Anglican Way. If you’re readers have more questions, they can always contact me through www.thomasmckenzie.com.


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